It's hard to think of a car that arrived with more hype than the R34 Nissan GT-R. By 1999 Nissan's wonder-kid had ceased being the unknown Easterner capable of lapping the Nurburgring in eight minutes and was installed as a fully-functioning icon.
The R34 carried with it a weight of expectation: car magazines clambered over themselves to get the first drive.
The first problem came when we saw the specification. This was the era of the silly 280hp limit on Japanese production cars, so amid all the fanfare, we were effectively left looking at a new model with an identical power output and an unimpressive 18lb ft increase in torque. Of course the reality was somewhat different: the cars had over 330bhp but Nissan just couldn't communicate the increase.
Before I state the case for not being a fan, you need to know my GT-R experience pre-1999. I had never driven an R32 GT-R, in fact I still haven't, but I was pretty well acquainted with the R33 V-Spec, especially the UK version which had been sold through Middlehurst's and spent a few years obliterating 911s in group tests. I loved it.
Unexpectedly, given the mechanical similarities between R33 and R34, I intended to jump into the new car and immediately discover a new legend. This first journey happened to be a trip to the Nurburgring alongside a development Subaru P1, and from the off, the car felt very stiff and laggy. It was a UK V-Spec version, with the extra diff cooling and the leather interior. On the road it was fast, but didn't actually feel noticeably faster than the last R33 I'd driven.
Then we got to the circuit. This was 1999, my first ever visit to the circuit and it was November. The circuit was damp and the warnings from experienced drivers were jangling my eardrums. I went out in the P1 first. It was quick and nimble enough to allow inexperienced hands to make several line adjustments through any given corner and it was supple.
This was both a good and a bad thing. Because I finished that first 'you'll kill yourself sonny' stint not being quite as scared as I should have been. But not to worry, the R34 would soon rectify the situation.
For starters, I couldn't find any balance in the car, especially front to rear. The car would understeer into a turn, still push through the apex, then throw everything at the rear wheels and oversteer on the exit. I wasn't that well versed in the ways of sliding back them, and the thing just terrified me. It was the complete opposite of the current R35 GT-R because instead of pushing torque to the axle with the best chance of maximizing traction, it seemed to send it to the wheels least capable of being of help in anything other than a drift competition. It was far less forgiving than the R33. A few years later, and with more experience, I might have found some merit in such behaviour.
Then, coming through the most technical corner on the circuit, Eiscurve, on my final lap in the R34, I did what so many people have done before and since: went in a little too quick, backed-away and ended up in a tank-slapper. Barriers flashed, turf applied itself to side windows and Connolly leather was nibbled by sphincter. Luck was the only contributing factor to the escape.
Mindful of this being a very harsh way to judge the R34, I spent plenty of time in them over the coming year on the road and on other circuits, and I still thought the R34 just wasn't as sweet as the car it replaced. There were other factors involved, the opposition being an important one. By 2000 we had something called a 996 GT3, the E39 M5 had arrived and then the 996 Turbo re-adjusted everyone's understanding of the phrase 'all-weather performance'. The GT-R, in standard form, was beginning to fall behind the opposition. Or rather the European opposition had closed the gap and begun to take advantage of not being beholden to crazy power caps.
If I can justify not enjoying the R34's dynamics as much as the R33's, I can't do the same for the styling. Flame me for saying so, but the R34 just never did it for me. R32: hell yes. R33: just loving that elephantine snout and melted sweet curves. But the R34 was too angular. Entirely personal, but a contributing factor nonetheless.
The GT-R section in the classifieds is hard to ignore. One day I'll take the plunge, but it won't be an R34.
Those of you who know far more about these cars than me, please, tell me why I'm wrong.
NISSAN SKYLINE GT-R R34 V-SPEC
Engine: 2,568cc 6-cylinder, twin-turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 280@6,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 289@4,400rpm
0-62mph: 5.2 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Price: £54,000 (new, UK version)
All figures as officially stated for standard, unmodified UK car